HL Deb 26 June 1879 vol 247 cc671-82

Order of the day for the Third Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."


rose to move that the Bill be read the third time that day three months. The noble Earl said, that when the Bill was passing through its previous stages he was not aware of the importance of the question at issue. The Preamble of the Bill declared that it was desirable to widen London Bridge with a view to the traffic which passed over it; and there was a clause giving power to the Corporation of London to carry out the work, without specifying in any manner the form or extent of the proposed alterations. It was a serious objection to the Bill, that Parliament should be asked to give such unlimited powers even to the Corporation of the City of London, because, with such powers conferred on them, they might deal with the Bridge as they pleased. There was a model of the alterations in the House, but there was nothing to prevent them from entirely departing from it. This model had been prepared, not by those who opposed, but by those who promoted, the Bill; and, therefore, it was to be presumed that the work was shown at its best, but to that model he was content to appeal as a full and sufficient proof of the vandalism which it was proposed to perpetrate. The present Bridge was built some 50 years ago by Sir John Rennie, costing, with the approaches, something like £1,500,000 sterling. It was quite as fine a Bridge in its way as was Waterloo Bridge, which had been described by Canova as one of the finest bridges in the world. According to the model of the promoters, it was proposed, in order to give additional width to London Bridge, to throw out, to the extent of 11 feet on either side, huge iron footways; and iron could not be so combined with granite without destroying the architectural character of the structure. The Council of the Institute of British Architects had condemned the proposed method of widening the Bridge, and declared their opinion that, if it was to be widened, the right way to do so was by means of masonry in architectural conformity with the structure as it now stood. They expressed their belief that the execution of the work in the manner proposed by the promoters of the Bill would involve the destruction of the original design of the Bridge. Unfortunately, in a case like this, where no individual rights were assailed, and the public interest alone was concerned, a Bill of this sort might pass through all its stages unopposed and even unnoticed. But their Lordships were a tribunal to which on public grounds he now appealed; and they were well qualified to judge of matters of taste. He urged them not to sanction the passing of a measure of this kind, which would enable the Corporation to apply such an unseemly patchwork of iron to the present granite structure. He also appealed to the Government, who had vetoed the Bill of last year—not on grounds similar to those on which he now asked them to act; but in consequence of the dispute between the Treasury and the Corporation as to the rights of the Crown, and who had the power of putting a veto upon the measure again. The only argument that had been advanced in favour of the proposed alteration was that the requirements of the traffic rendered it necessary. But, as far as he had been able by inquiry to ascertain the facts of the case, he denied that there was any such necessity; and, in any case, he maintained that the method of widening contemplated by the promoters of the Bill was not the proper method. He was assured by most competent eyewitnesses that there was nothing approaching a crowd at all ordinary periods of the day, so admirable were the police regulations as to the traffic on the Bridge. Two eminent authorities—Colonel Haywood, the City Engineer, and Colonel Fraser, the Commissioner of the City Police—had publicly and in print expressed their opinion in regard to this matter, and had declared that there was no excessive pressure of traffic upon the Bridge. Colonel Haywood made a Report on the matter as long ago as 1867, and Colonel Fraser as recently as last year. Colonel Haywood said in his Report that the proposed widening would, undoubtedly, involve the architectural destruction of one of the finest structures in Europe, and that it would be useless unless the approaches were widened also. It was, he thought, impossible for anyone to cite a better or more reliable opinion. But he would, on the question of necessity, take the Report of Colonel Fraser, made last year, in which he said that he had little hesitation in saying that this object — the relief of the stoppage of traffic—would be much more effectually accomplished by a widening of Fenchurch Street. He added that London Bridge was the only important thoroughfare in which serious stoppages were seldom witnessed; for, as the Bridge was of a uniform width throughout, the police had no difficulty in keeping four lines of traffic—the modesty of Colonel Fraser prevented him from pointing out that this was due to the excellence of his own police arrangements. A remarkable Return made by the City Police last year showed that the total amount of stoppages in a given fortnight was 1 hour and 28 minutes; and, consequently, that there were, on an average, two stoppages a-day-—involving a loss during the 24 hours of 3½ minutes each—and in almost every case these were due to the falling down of horses. He thought, in the face of these facts, it was idle to contend that there was any necessity for widening London Bridge in a manner which would involve the destruction of one of the finest public works which they had in this great town. The real difficulty was to be found in dealing with the approaches; and he begged their Lordships to observe that if they widened the Bridge without dealing with the approaches they would only aggravate the difficulties with which they now had to deal. The real necessity was for a Bridge east of London Bridge, and this necessity would probably have to be met on an early day, in order to provide for that vast population which now resided in the districts to the east of the present Bridge. It was estimated that that population had already reached 1,250,000, and it was calculated that in the course of 40 years that number would have increased to 2,500,000. At the present time there was a Bill before the other House of Parliament, authorizing the construction of a Bridge about half-a-mile lower down the river. Whether that was a good or bad measure it was not for him to say; but he thought that when such a Bill was actually before Parliament it was, at least, premature to take such steps as it was now sought to take by this Bill. He contended—first, that no case had been made out showing the necessity of widening the Bridge—indeed, he had quoted statistics to show that none could be made out; and, secondly, he maintained that, if it was desirable to widen it, it should be done in a different way—he objected entirely to the plenary powers which were given by the Bill; and, lastly, he would point out to their Lordships that it would be deplorable in the highest degree if, on insufficient information, and on the ground merely of a paltry economy, they allowed to be destroyed one of the few great works of modern times which had been built in London. He should be glad if he could suggest any alternative but the rejection of the Bill; but having given the matter his careful consideration he found that he had no other course. It was a measure which the promoters were bound to take back and re-consider, and small hardship would be done to the promoters, who had hitherto carried their Bill through unopposed. He appealed also to Her Majesty's Government, as he could not feel that they would be willing to connect themselves with a work which would hereafter be pointed at with the finger of scorn, and of which everybody who had any part or concern in it would be ashamed.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months").—9The Earl of Carnarvon.)


said, he did not know whether their Lordships had any special information on this subject; but he ventured, in the general interest of the Business of the House, to ask them to consider the course which had been taken by his noble Friend. He doubted whether it had ever occurred before that a Motion had been made to reject a Private Bill which had successfully passed through both Houses on every stage but the third reading in the last House. The Bill was introduced in the other House in the first or second week of the Session, passed through all its stages in that House unopposed, and had passed all its stages in their Lordships' House also unopposed up to the third reading, when the noble Earl proposed to reject it. The project of widening London Bridge was not a new one. A Bill for the object was introduced in the other House last year, but fell through, not from any regular Parliamentary opposition, but in consequence of a dispute between the Corporation of London and the Treasury as to certain rights of the Crown. The importance of the question raised by the noble Earl seemed to him to lie in this—that what their Lordships had heard from the noble Earl in regard to the merits of the case really related to questions of fact, on which it was impossible that they could arrive at any sound conclusion. For instance, it was said that there was no necessity for widening the Bridge; but that was a question of fact which required examination into statistics. The Corporation were not proposing to do anything for their own benefit, or to make money for themselves, by widening the Bridge; on the contrary, they were going to spend money, and they were going to do so at the request of those interested in the welfare of the City, and especially of the great carrying Companies. These were all questions of fact which could not be examined into on the third reading of a Bill. Then his noble Friend said this was not the proper way of widening the Bridge, and that, if it was absolutely necessary, some other mode ought to be adopted. But he (the Lord Chancellor) was informed that the only alternative scheme which had been proposed would involve an expenditure of £500,000, whereas what was proposed by the present Bill could be done for £60,000 or £70,000. Then, the City architect and others who were responsible for the advice given to the Corporation had said that if the alternative scheme of an erection of masonry were adopted they would not be responsible for its success, and that they were doubtful whether the present foundations would carry the increased weight of masonry. But this, like the other question, should have been previously examined into. He was only saying what he had been told; but, at all events, it was clear that the questions to which he had referred were matters of fact which their Lordships' House could not inquire into, and were matters which those who raised them ought to have inquired into in the ordinary manner. The question of taste was, of course, a matter of opinion. Upon the question of the necessity of widening the Bridge, there was a strong concurrence of the opinion of those who were interested in the matter in the City that there was such a necessity. It was true that the block on the Bridge was not at present so great as it was some 20 years ago; but that was owing to the presence of a great number of police, and it cost some £700 or £800 a-year to, regulate the traffic. As regarded the aesthetic character of the proposed work, he believed similar things had been done, Some of their Lord- ships might have seen a bridge so treated in Florence. He believed there was also one over the Rhone at Lyons, and he was certain there was one over the Seine at Paris. The esthetic question, however, was, after all, one on which they might very well differ. He submitted that it was a strong measure, and one quite contrary to their Lordships' practice, to ask them to reject on the third reading a Bill of that character, and which, up to that stage, had not been opposed.


was disappointed at what had fallen from the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack. He had joined in the course his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) had taken in asking the other day for the postponement of the third reading of this Bill, thinking his request a very reasonable one, and that at whatever stage application was made to the House of Lords not to pass a Bill because it would not be for the public good, they ought not without due consideration to sanction it. Ho quite agreed, however, with the noble and learned Earl, that they were in some difficulty in the matter. As to the effect of what was proposed to be done, he thought there could not be two opinions. The deterioration of a fine monument by the proposed plan was, he believed, admitted by everyone who had examined into it. He was not one to postpone utility to beauty; but such a deterioration of so fine a structure was a matter which ought not to be overlooked. If the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack had told them that the plan had been considered by the Government, and that; speaking for them, he recommended the proposal as one which was necessary or had greater advantages than any other, he would have attached much more weight to what the noble and learned Earl had said on the subject. But what the noble and learned Earl had said was only what he had been hearing from the agents of the Corporation for the last two days. He had read in the biography of Sir John Rennie that before the Bridge was built the Corporation wanted to patch up the old one; but the Government of the day interposed, and, ultimately, a contribution of £140,000 or £150,000 was made from the Treasury, which gave the Government that voice in reference to such proposals as that in the Bill to which allusion had been made by his noble Friend. The noble and learned Earl said that objection should have been taken to the Bill before now. But what locus standi would the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) have had before the Committee on the Bill? This could not be regarded as a Private Bill, in the ordinary sense of the word. If, however, the Government proposed now to refer this Bill to a Committee he would be content; but unless they declared this to be their intention, or unless they would state that they, having considered the matter, were convinced of the necessity of the step now proposed to be taken by the Corporation of London in widening the Bridge, he should feel it his duty to vote with the noble Earl.


did not think that the promoters of the Bill could fairly be found fault with. The Royal Academy, in 1858, endeavoured to stop the creation of the Victoria Station on esthetic principles, because its bridge was too near the Chelsea Bridge. The noble and learned Earl had said that it would be necessary to have considerable statistics in order to show whether the traffic over London Bridge was really such that the structure required to be widened; but he thought that anyone who had had occasion to go to the London Bridge Station of the Brighton Railway, without five minutes to spare, could bear ample testimony to the inconvenience which was at present experienced. He did not consider that a new bridge over the river opposite the Tower would meet the difficulty. The proper step to take was to widen London Bridge.


asked who amongst their Lordships was sufficiently informed upon the facts to be able to give a distinct opinion as to the Bill? It appeared to him that the measure was just one that ought to be referred to a Select Committee, who could make all the necessary inquiries and report the whole facts to the House. It was one which concerned the dignity of the Metropolis, and the matter to which it related ought to be carefully considered in all its aspects.


said, he hoped their Lordships would not agree to the third reading of the Bill on this occasion. If a Motion were made to re-commit the Bill, he had nothing to say against it; but he might say that, in his opinion, the Bill ought not to be passed that evening. There was not such a superfluity of fine public works in London that they could afford to spoil any of those which they possessed; and he appealed to any of their Lordships as to whether the proposed alteration of London Bridge would not deface and ruin, as a monument of the Metropolis, one of the greatest of their public works? That was a point which did not appear to him to admit of argument. In connection with this matter, he might allude to the circumstance that, under the present system of introducing and carrying forward Private Bills, measures might become law which would be very injurious to the public, and yet the public had no locus standi to oppose them. When a Private Bill was brought in, there was no statement made to the House as to its object; practically, as a general rule, no one thought it worth while to take up such a measure; and, in the present instance, there was no course open to the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) save that which he had adopted. With reference to the obstruction which had been complained of, the noble Earl had reminded their Lordships that waggons did not load or unload on the Bridge itself—the traffic went on continuously, and there were comparatively few stoppages on the Bridge itself—the obstruction took place in the streets leading to the Bridge. In those streets waggons were continually loading and unloading; carriages stopped at shop doors; so that the whole width of the roadways leading to the Bridge were not available for traffic—and thus a great deal of inconvenience occasioned. This explanation was so consistent with common sense that he did not hesitate in accepting it. He supported the proposal that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he certainly thought that the persons who had a right to complain in this matter were the promoters of the Bill. The measure had been brought to the notice of the police authorities; but it passed through the other House, and had gone through most stages in their Lordship's House, without attention having been called to the considerations which his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Carnarvon) now urged. But now, at the very last stage, objection was taken to a measure which had arrived at that point not without due attention and consideration. The noble Earl who had just spoken seemed to think that there was a proper opportunity afforded by the third reading of the Bill for calling attention to it and moving its rejection; but it would have been far better, if the matter were one of such importance, that the notice of their Lordships should have been directed to it on the second reading. There was nothing in the conduct of the promoters of the measure which prevented public attention being drawn to the Bill, or which prevented the Bill being treated in the ordinary way. He thought there could be no doubt that this was a Private Bill; and he must protest against the doctrine that it was the duty of the Government to take up the question and advise the House upon it. He did not think it was the duty of the Government, either in that or the other House of Parliament, to take up Private Bills and offer their opinions upon the matters to which they referred; nor was it the custom to do so in either House of Parliament. It was quite clear that the question now before their Lordships was one upon which there was great difference and variety of opinion. It had been spoken of from the point of view of art; and it had been said that if the Bridge were allowed to be enlarged in the manner proposed there would be a violation of taste, and that the Bridge itself would be an eyesore to the Metropolis. Generally speaking, the great diversity of opinion that had been exhibited during the discussion showed that the Bill ought to have been considered on the Motion for the second reading; but, although he thought it was greatly to be regretted that attention was not called to it at an earlier stage, he did not consider that there would be any disadvantage in the Bill being referred to a Select Committee, provided that that Committee were properly chosen, and that the Instructions given to it were of such a nature that its Members would be able to look thoroughly and completely into the matter, and to come to such a conclusion as would be satisfactory to their Lordships, and enable them to arrive at a final decision upon the Bill. In recommending or acquiescing in the proposal that the measure should be referred to a Select Committee, he did not wish to convey the idea that he thought his noble Friend had made out his case. He considered that all his noble Friend had done had been to make out a case for inquiry, and nothing more. That inquiry need not necessarily prejudice the final passing of the Bill.


said, that he hoped it would not go down to posterity that those of their Lordships who took interest in æsthetics considered Chelsea Bridge or Burlington House the finest buildings in the Metropolis. He expressed his satisfaction at hearing that the Bill would be sent to a Select Committee, hoping that that Committee would be able to hit upon something better than the scheme now proposed.


thought that the fact that the Metropolis and Corporation had so recently thrown open the Metropolitan bridges free of toll, at a great expenditure of money, was a reason why they should delay to pass the present Bill. It seemed to him that it was desirable to ascertain what effect the free passage of the bridges would have in diverting the traffic before they spent additional money on widening London Bridge.


said, that the country would not view with indifference a measure calculated to mar, in a great degree, one of the finest public monuments in the Metropolis.


said, it seemed to be the wish of their Lordships that the statements which he had made should be thoroughly sifted. He hoped that that would be done; and, believing that the remarks which he had made to the House would be confirmed by trustworthy evidence, he accepted the proposal that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. He apprehended that the proper course to adopt would be this—that both the Order for the third reading and his own Amendment should be discharged, and that it should then be moved that the Bill be committed to a Committee, to be named on a subsequent day. He had no doubt great care would be taken in the appointment of that Committee.


suggested that the Committee should be nominated by the noble Earl himself.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn: The Order for the Third Reading discharged; and Bill referred to a Select Committee.

And, on June 30, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

Ld. President. E. Somers.
Ld. Privy Seal. V. Cardwell.
M. Ripon. L. De L'Isle and Dudley.
E. Jersey.
E. Carnarvon. L. Carlingford.
E. Morley. L. Winmarleigh.